Number of the Month

November 2001

Synchronised spinning

With a new round of climate talks under way this month, all other activities in the lying fields pale into insignificance. The world is awash with global warming horror stories. A record warm October in Britain has been a boon to fanatics and journalists seeking to exploit those who cannot distinguish between climate and weather. While the sort of travesty noted in The Observer last month is relatively expected from such a source, it is still disappointing that a once great science journal, Nature,  descends to such opportunistic nonsense. It is not the first time, however, as we noted in April (see Against Nature). The unwonted triviality of the approach is emphasised by the headline: The smart money is on global warming.

The story arises from a paper in Science entitled Climate change in non-traditional data sets and concerns the Nenana Ice Classic. This is a gambling device based upon the date and time of the ice melt on the Tenana River. It has grown into a big event, with a jackpot of $300,000 a year. Just the sort of trivial pursuit to keep the pot boiling among the tabloids and the trendies, but in a formerly serious scientific journal?

One of the fascinating features of the global warming debate has been a David and Goliath battle. David is a lone Tasmanian scholar, John Daly, while Goliath is the might of the post-scientific establishment, which has the whole Philistine army of the world media behind it. Amazingly, David is winning the battle hands down, though the world will never know it because of the rigorous censorship voluntarily imposed by the media.

Now it so happens that Daly found the Nenana story before Nature and had already posted a typically thorough critique. It is worth noting the conclusion to his careful analysis:

It is clear from the Nenana Ice Classic data that there has been a slight trend toward earlier breakup dates, but nothing nearly as significant as that claimed by the authors - and hardly justifying a paper about it in a major journal.

The authors attribute recent earlier breakups to climatic warming, but it is clear from Alaska Climate Research Center data that there has been little or no warming to speak of over the full period, but that snowfall has increased significantly, contrary to what the authors claim. The authors also make no allowance for the possibility of urban warming of the river itself.

Their claims of correlations between river breakup dates and climatic warming are based primarily on selecting only part of the available data, significantly excluding the peak warm year of 1940. They also excluded the data for 2001, a colder than average year, even though there was ample time to include it.  Had it been included, it would have made a significant difference to their comparative analysis.

But then, they might not have got it published in time for the COP7 climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco, in early November. And it is that political imperative which seems to have underpinned what was really very sloppy science.

In fact, the whole paper rests on one of the oldest statistical fiddles in the book. This is known as end date distortion, which is polite scientific language for fraud by selection. This is one of the prime ploys in the art of chartmanship. The authors state:

"We examined the entire record of ice breakup to look for long-term trends in breakup. We compared the ice breakup record from 1949-2000 with available climatic data for Nenana and Fairbanks, Alaska (90 km away)."

By doing this they left out both 1946, which was an earlier than average year, and 2001, which was a later than average year, let alone the entire earlier record. The result of this selection is to create an illusion of a significant trend where there is none. A typical optimised isolated statistic quoted by Nature is "Since 1975, the date at which the clock stops has advanced by about nine days". They could equally have said "Since 1940 it has gone back by about eighteen days". All in all it is merely a typical fabrication by the global warming propagandists and certainly nothing to do with real science. The omnipresence of such blatant and deliberate falsehood to prop up a theory of purely political origin augers ill for the future of science. It is really all rather depressing.

An aside on words

It has frequently been remarked in these columns and the accompanying book that the abuse of numbers often arises from the weasel words that surround them.

The history of the written media in the so-called Anglo-Saxon world may be said to have begun when William Caxton arrived from Bruges under the protection of Edward IV, whom he had aided in his time of flight. He set up his presses in Fleet Street and with the help of his young foreman, Wynken de Worde, began a long tradition that endured until the late twentieth century. It was not long, however, before the printed word became the vehicle for the corruption of truth, and it was Edward’s hapless younger brother, Richard III, who was the first victim of character assassination by press. The History of King Richard III is generally ascribed to the honourable Sir Thomas More, but it is much more likely to owe its authorship to the devious Archbishop Morton (he of The Fork). Richard, about whom written records indicate almost nothing but good, was saddled with a series of vile crimes, which he almost certainly did not commit, and the tradition was carried on slavishly by historians throughout the ages and particularly reinforced by the great bard himself. The usurper, Henry Tudor, in order to justify a remarkably tenuous claim to the throne, had initiated a tradition of corruption that would endure.

Nevertheless, the printed word continued to be used for both good and bad. Great newspapers came and went. In particular The Times, known as the Thunderer, was a powerful and honest force, though of course inclined to fall in with the prejudices of each generation, until it fell within the influence of the arch debaucher of the culture, Rupert Murdoch.

The experiments of Marconi led to a sudden return to the influence of the spoken word. The British were very fortunate in the creation of the British Broadcast Corporation, which temporarily fended off the tsunami of trivia that had engulfed the American broadcasting media. The BBC too eventually went into decline, notably under the appalling John Birt, a multi-millionaire Tony crony, and is now run by two other multi-millionaire Tony cronies.

Just when all might have been lost, Tim Berners Lee came up with his wonderful idea of the World Wide Web and the establishment monopoly over the word was broken forever. There was, as always, a heavy price to pay, particularly the tide of pornography and extremism, but it was worth it just to preserve that grain of truth. Putting up with all those wallies is an acceptable cost for the preservation of the likes of  John Daly and the other inhabitants of the Good Guy section of our links.

The operation of the media monopoly of the new establishment is no better illustrated than in the reportage of the goings on at the climate change conference in Marrakech.

If there are still any readers who adhere to the faith in the global warming myth, they may see the evidence in the temperature record for Marrakech itself here.

Halloween horror story

There’s no beating the tobacco SIFs when it comes to telling and repeating (and repeating and repeating ….) the big lie. A selection of the illuminati of the medical establishment bagged pole position of The Times letters on Halloween to propagate its horror story about tobacco deaths. Number Watch supports the right of anyone to campaign against things they don’t like. It does not, however, support their right to ban anything they don’t like and it certainly does not support the right to tell outrageous lies to that end.

The letter starts:

Sir, Since 1997, the Government has been promising — in two election manifestos and numerous public statements — to ban tobacco advertising. Smoking-related disease is Britain’s biggest preventable killer, causing 120,000 deaths per year. The Government’s own figures show that banning tobacco advertising could save 3,000 lives per year and save the NHS £40 million per year. Despite this, the legislation remains as far away as ever.

They manage to quote three numbers, all of which are demonstrable lies. The 120,000 deaths a year, pro rata for the population, is actually 50% higher even than that claimed by the CDC in America. The CDC figures were devastatingly demolished in an article by Levy and Marimont entitled Lies, damned lies and 400,000 smoking related deaths. The claim that an advertising ban would save any lives is, of course, pure fiction, while the saving to the NHS is self-contradictory, since the premature deaths, if true, would save on the vast costs on the treatment of diseases of old age, which dominate NHS expenditure.

This mythical 120,000, which is about one fifth of total deaths, comes up over and over again, with no attempt being made to justify it. If they tried to they would have to find statistical fiddles 50% better than those employed by the CDC. Here, in the words of Levy and Marimont, is just one of them

 Most revealing of all, almost 255,000 of the smoking-related deaths—nearly 60 percent of the total—occurred at age seventy or above. More than 192,000 deaths—nearly 45 per-cent of the total—occurred at age seventy-five or higher. And roughly 72,000 deaths—almost 17 percent of the total—occurred at the age of 85 or above. Still, the public health community disingenuously refers to “premature” deaths from smoking, as if there is no upper age limit to the computation. 

One of the notable signatories to the letter is Professor Gordon McVie, who will be well known to regular visitors to Number Watch. He it was, for example, who hailed as “cast iron” research that showed that beta-carotene causes cancer (see July 2000) with a risk ratio of 1.18.

When the leaders of what used to be respectable scientific institutions habitually peddle such glaring falsehoods, what hope is there for science?

Forum

Readers may wish to note that, experimentally, a forum has been added to this site. It may be reached from the icon on the index page.

Modern sin tax

On being asked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Gladstone, about the practical worth of electricity, Michael Faraday replied “One day, Sir, you may tax it.”

In the topsy-turvy world of the modern post-scientific era, when carbon dioxide (a substance vital to life on earth) is classified as a pollutant, the opportunities for taxation become greatly multiplied. The present Chancer of the Exchequer, no slouch when it comes to spotting a potential stealth tax, now has his sights on high-mileage company car drivers (Daily Mail, 1st November) for a draconian tax hike. What better time to float it than in the midst of the hysterical clamour surrounding the circus in Marrakech? Never mind the fact that it will particularly hit small and medium businesses at a time when they are most vulnerable to the economic storms assailing the world. After all, these evil doers are threatening to roast our grandchildren. This is the Wonderland of Europe, where the likes of Steady Eddie and Dim Wim feel able to stand mute and immune on the burning deck when all about are doing their best to deal with the conflagration. New Labour is an ambivalent philosophy. It makes obeisance to the wealthy backers to whom it owes its existence, but retains the old anti-business impulse of authoritarian socialism. With the media solidly in the camp of junk science and the opposition lost in a strange world of its own, the Chancer can say, in the immortal words of C J, “I didn’t get where I am today without knowing a winner when I see one.”

 Correspondence received

Meanings

Although my mother is British, I have lived in the US almost all my life. Therefore, I do not understand some of the things that you say on your great web site, Number Watch, on your side of the pond. (Divided by a common language). Particularly, what is an SIF, as in "the tobacco SIFs"? Also, what is the significance of "your bending author"? I have not heard the term "bending" used in that way before. Thank you for your assistance, and your great web site.
Richard Thomsen

SIF, which is expanded fully on the index page, is an abbreviation for Single Issue Fanatic. It was coined, I believe, by Bernard Levin, a famous columnist in The Times, who was the first to spot this new social phenomenon.
"Your bending author" is an Englishman's indulgence that would not be understood by Americans. It arises from what Newbolt calls, in his Essays and Essayists, "easy ways of averting, not recognition or criticism, but the pain of self-assertion". It is in fact taken from the last speech in Henry V by the great bard.

Eye witness

 

The topic that has produced more words and angst than any other in these columns this year is the foot and mouth disease disaster. Ducking and diving to the bitter end, the British Government crowned its performance by running away from a full independent inquiry and substituting three phoney mini-inquiries. It comes to something when a satirical magazine has to fulfil functions dodged by the Government of the day, but this is just what has happened. Private Eye has produced a thirty two page special that gives in fine detail the whole sordid story. Just a few of the many points raised in the report are so reminiscent of other sources of mass wrong numbers that they are worth summarising:

 

The government in charge revealed itself as the least competent in living memory.

MAFF was a disaster waiting to happen (long before this crisis, this author wrote in Sorry, wrong number! that MAFF had been out of control for years.)

The foundations had been laid by the previous Conservative administration, with its cuts in support services and gold plating of EU hygiene regulations.

The opposition was all but invisible throughout. Its spokesman Tim (nice but dim) Yeo merely stood on the sidelines complaining of the inefficiency of the slaughter.

Powers had been ceded to the EU, which ensured the intrusion of that body’s Byzantine processes and subsidy systems.

  Real experts were swept aside and control was yielded to practitioners of the most debased of modern sciences, epidemiology.

The main scientific tool used was, heaven help us, a computer model.

The sensible policy (vaccination) was virtually censored from discussion.

Truth was sacrificed to favour the Government election campaign, and figures were massaged on a large scale.

The methods used by officials were illegal and, as their blood lust rose, increasingly so.

There are, of course, many, many other facets in this admirably thorough report, some of a quite extraordinary murkiness. For coverage in Number Watch during the progress of the crisis see:

Mad mad mad (February)
Myth take (March)
Update (March)
In a parlous state (March)
Modesty forbids (April)
Number of the month (April)
And now AC/DC clusters (June)
Death dealing computers (July)
The Silly Isles (August)
When numbers are not enough (August)
This is the dawning of the age of incompetence (September)
With governments like this who need enemies (September)
Of Birthdays and clusters

Let us hope that it now really is all over. Meanwhile, the government is seeking enhanced powers so that it can achieve an even more efficient holocaust next time.

The report can be ordered from overseas direct from Private Eye on +44 (0)20 7228 0425. Please email subscriptions@private-eye.co.uk for further information.

Billion dollar fraud

It is not often that the manufacture of junk science is fully exposed, but this one is a real whopper. The endocrine disrupter scam arose from a typical piece of unsubstantiated conjecture in Rachel Carson’s notorious Silent Springs, but it was given real impetus by “research” published in 1996, which “proved” that combinations of pesticides and PCBs were a thousand times more potent as endocrine disrupters than they were individually. Enter the EPA and its infamous director, Carol Browner. Within a month, Congress had been panicked into passing a bill, which was signed by President Clinton, that gave the EPA power to impose damaging costs on US industry, mounting to billions of dollars. The research was conducted at Tulane University, which has had far more than its ration of places in the Junk Science Hall of Shame.

Now the Federal Office of Research Integrity has ruled that Steven F. Arnold, a former researcher at the Tulane University Center for Bioenvironmental Research, "committed scientific misconduct by intentionally falsifying the research results published in the journal Science and by providing falsified and fabricated materials to investigating officials." Nevertheless, the profoundly damaging legislation remains in place, and they wonder why they have a recession. Give thanks that the world has been saved from Gore and Kyoto.

 Leaf mould

Madam, a circulating library in a town is an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge! It blossoms throughout the year! And, depend on it, Mrs Malaprop, that they who are so fond of handling the leaves, will long for the fruit at last.
Sheridan, The Rivals

As adumbrated in the opening piece above, the media have been falling over themselves to find spurious global warming stories to prop up the talks in Marrakech. It is quite amazing how cooperative nature has been, and with such immaculate timing; like the Mediterranean clicking prawn that showed up in British Coastal waters, an entry that would have won an Oscar for timing in the histrionic world. The occurrence of a record warm October in Britain was, however,  rather undermined by the arrival of icy winds from the Arctic before the talks could finish.

Of the many interesting new proxies for global warming, however, a prize specimen was the timing of the appearance of new leaves on British trees. A classic piece of timely junk appeared in the Sunday Times (November 4th). Headed Nature thinks winter won't happen, it is a classic and well worth reading. Take particular note of the graph. Regulars at Number Watch will recognise a fine example of the art of chartmanship in the choice of aspect ratio. There is more to it than that, however, as has been discovered by Miceal O'Ronain. Miceal was the benefactor to mankind who invented the wiggle graph as a means of exposing discrepancies between different graphical representations of what should be nominally the same data. His first triumph was the exposure of the discrepant data from CRU on world temperatures. When he turned his attention to the Sunday Times graph he created an animation to compare it with the original data from the ICCUK. The results proved rather interesting.

 

The animation shows with delightful clarity how the data have been crudely censored. No further detailed comment is needed.

This is not chartmanship, which is defined as the art of misleading with out actually cheating, it goes far beyond that. It just goes to illustrate the ruthless extremes that the establishment media will go to to prop up the global warming myth.

Meanwhile, in the USA the National Center for Atmospheric Research Have acquired an IBM SP super-computer for climate modelling, i.e. super-GIGO.

Fingers out!

Last month it was fingers. This month fingers are out and legs are in. The latest epidemiological daft data dredge comes from the University of Bristol, whence one Professor George Smith tells us that short legs in men are associated with a propensity to diabetes and heart diseases. The ad hoc theory that inevitably goes with one of these accidental associations is that short legs denote an impoverished childhood and impaired growth. For the record, and as a sample of one, your bending author is blessed with duck's disease (short legs) as were his mother and father, though he was well nourished during early childhood. The Trojan Number in this study was 2,512 men in Wales, who were monitored for 15 years. These, of course, are the only numbers given in the press release and we are not told what is meant by such scientific abstractions as “short” and “increased risk”.

Splash!

The Daily Telegraph announced the death of a woman from acute water intoxication. Could this be the start of a whole new bandwagon? Number Watch, whose author is somewhat in need of a nice little earner, has decided to launch its own charity before the usual suspects move in. We are therefore pleased to announce the formation of Water Concern. Other titles, such as Water Action for Health or WAH!, were considered but rejected as not having the right resonance. So the slogan is It’s your WC, make a deposit today!

Our first project is to recruit counsellors to offer support and advice to elderly Sassenachs who have unsuspectingly been adding water to their whisky, thereby exposing themselves to a risk of premature death.

But this is only the beginning. Even very young children are so addicted to this substance that they feel they cannot live without it. Even those who start recreationally on soft water have been shown to be highly likely to progress to hard water. Often they end up by going rapidly down hill on snow. By the time they reach adulthood many of them are hopeless aquatics.

So watch out for scary reports from our extensive teams of epidemiologists, who will prove that water abuse is associated with every disease under the sun. Support our dehydration clinics, where even the most hopeless cases get the opportunity to dry out. Above all, send in lots of money to support our growing band of administrators, who would otherwise be thrown out on the streets with their families. Make WC not just a public convenience, but part of your life. You know it makes cents!

Counterblast

Flushed with pride at the successful launch of our new charity, we were rather taken aback when, within an hour of the above announcement being posted, the other lot launched a counter attack. Regular readers of Number Watch should have little difficulty in picking a few holes in each item on the list of alcohol facts published by Alcohol Concern, particularly bearing in mind that the recommended safe levels have been plucked out of the air without any attempt at justification.

Soar point

Ovarian cancer rates soar roars the BBC, with scant regard for the British tradition of understatement. Their television text version headlined a “sharp” increase. Application of such words to a rate of increase of 1% per annum seems somewhat intemperate, even for the New Labour BBC. Nevertheless, a one in 48 lifetime chance of contracting the disease must be a cause of concern. Readers of Sorry, wrong number! might well surmise that this could be an example of the independence fallacy, since there are a number of other diseases from which women are less likely to die, giving them more time to contract those for which medicine has as yet no solution.

The other statistic is that British women have one of the lowest survival rates for this disease. Not surprising, as they also have one of the crappiest health services, brought about by the performance of the management caste as much as by underfunding.

Demolition of a constitution

The best of human institutions can take centuries to forge; yet they can be dismantled in no time at all. One of Britain’s finest achievements has been its unwritten constitution. It is being systematically wrecked with as much contumely and absence of coherent thought as the Taliban displayed when they pulverised the giant Buddhas. A millennium of struggle, trial and error, compromise and adjustment had produced a system that was one of the best in the world for the protection and well being of ordinary people. The simple act of writing in the European Human Rights Act into the constitution sounds harmless enough, but it has been an unmitigated disaster from the outset, with more chaos and waste to come. It is much worse that that, however, and as Simon Jenkins pointed out in a trenchant Times article, life in Britain gets more like living in a banana republic by the day. Even more forcefully expressed is Roy Hattersley’s piece in the Sunday Times – “Tony Blair is being allowed to achieve total domination of our constitution. He must be stopped…..”.

You have to back as far as Plantagenet and Tudor times to find a Parliament so pusillanimous in its acquiescence to the diktats of the Leader. The only parliamentary force for moderation has been the House of Lords, so that has to be destroyed. It is now accepted as a truism that there is nothing to be said in favour of the hereditary principle. Well, here are five things

1.      It does not involve democratic election and therefore does not produce the sort of self-serving, self-promoting, hypocritical creep that is the average politician of today.

2.      Ironically, the hereditary peerage has proved more varied and representative of the aspirations of the ordinary people than has the elected house. The genetic inheritance of the Norman conquerors has been moderated by a mélange of chorus girls, heroes, sycophants, adulterers and other widely variable types.

3.      As a result the Upper House has contained the widest possible variety of people: scientists, morons, philosophers, communists, writers, monomaniacs, warriors, eccentrics, natural leaders and so on.

4.      Its members are prepared from birth for the duty that will one day be imposed upon them.

5.      Such a house is naturally conservative and therefore likely to moderate the destructive urges of elected parliaments that successively swing from one political extreme to the other.

Because of its accidental euphony, the concept of Tony’ cronies had been dismissed as a frivolous joke, but it is far more serious than that. The invention of life peerages introduced a new age of Prime Ministerial patronage, but never has a Prime Minister packed the House with such large numbers of his own pals in such a short time (and such low quality). The man in charge of wrecking the constitution, LORD Derry Irvine, has no other qualification than being a former legal colleague of The Leader. The main strategic advisor is LORD John Birt, the man responsible for wrecking another fine British institution, the BBC.

What has all this to do with the concerns of Number Watch? Just about everything. In the shadow of such powerful patronage, real science gets swept under the carpet. It is no coincidence that Britain was at the forefront of hammering out the economically destructive but scientifically illiterate agreement at Marrakech, or that British universities are paid millions of pounds to produced post-scientific hogwash.

And who is to blame? It is the enfeebled opposition. Just as Old Labour made itself unelectable and gave the Thatcher Government free rein to create havoc, so the Conservative party, as a result of the ensuing hubris is now equally unelectable and impotent.

Another irony is that Americans and others overseas think that the PM is doing a grand job, because he doth bestride the narrow world like a colitis, saving it from terrorists. It is characteristic of such leaders that, when the situation they have created at home becomes unmanageable, they turn their attentions abroad. Margaret Thatcher was busy sorting out Europe when the metaphorical cold steel was finally inserted between her shoulder blades. Retribution will come, but far too late to save what has taken centuries to build.

Can journalism sink any lower?

First, the bad news; a number of readers have complained that the links to the Sunday Times in the story above do not work. The reason for this is that the Times newspapers have switched their archive to a pay-per-view system. The pages disappear as soon as they are a week old. It is a pity, because the article in question is the epitome of the sort of statistical chicanery that the establishment media employ to prop up trendy myths.

The good news is that, since Number Watch drew attention to this particular article, Miceal O'Ronain and John L. Daly have subjected it to the careful scholastic analysis for which they are both noted. This treatment is essential reading for anyone interested in discovering the extremes of mendacity to which the modern media will descend in promoting their pet theories. There are four graphs accompanying the article. Every one of them cold bloodedly and grossly distorts the original data to create apparent trends that are in fact non-existent. Number Watch can only echo the conclusion of these authors:

If the evidence for global warming is that compelling, why is it necessary for those who believe in global warming, to misrepresent data in this manner to support their cause?

For those with money to burn here is the Sunday Times Archived Link.

A flood of memories

Number Watch was never meant to be a global warming site, but a hunter has to go where the big game are. This is the watering hole at which the big liars congregate. Children are a particular target (see, for example, the EPA’s propaganda for kids). “And it’s official” gushed the morning news presenter on BBC TV, celebrating the latest global warming proxy to get an airing in the media. This time it is the increase in winter floods. Whom is it from? Surprise, surprise, it is the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. They have done a survey for all of 39 years, which shows that the frequency of winter floods has doubled. Time was when 39 years would have been regarded as weather, not climate, but the political imperatives now dictate otherwise. Visitors to the BBC web site were treated to an alternative view that was not granted to viewers. This was from Dr Alice Robson of the UK's respectable Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, who is researching flood frequency. She says she has found an increase in floods in the UK over the last 40 years, but no evidence of a trend over the longer term. Dr Robson said: "The recent flood events do not look outstanding when compared with flood series that date back to early last century."

One of the problems of today is that people consign everything before their own lifetime as a historical irrelevance. Oldies in Britain can remember, for example, the Lynmouth disaster of 1952, which made the recent floods look like a children’s day out paddling. It rained for 12 of the first 14 days of August. In the heavy thunderstorms 200mm of rain fell in 14 hours. It was all made worse by human intervention, such as building and deforestation. 130 cars and 19 boats were washed away. 90 houses were destroyed, leaving 1000 people homeless. 34 people died.

Today people buy houses in new estates with names like “Waterside Meadows” and then wonder why they get flooded out. In olden times tradition said that you do not build on flood plains, but tradition is such old hat and we are so much wiser now. It is Government policy to concrete over Britain and they are in the process of awarding themselves new planning powers, so that they cannot be opposed.

Begone the fridge

Watch out for a new bunch of mysterious figures lurking about Britain's beauty spots at the dead on night. They are not smugglers or clandestine lovers, but fridge dumpers. It is the latest coup by the almighty Greens of the EU. Believe it or not, because of  new EU regulations, DEFRA, fresh from its foot and mouth triumph, is asking the British to refrain from buying fridges. It is now illegal to dispose of both the coolant and the insulant in fridges, but in Britain there is no legal way of doing it. All because of a hole in the ozone layer that was probably always there and an unproven theory as to how it was caused.

Lest we forget

The headlines one year ago were declaring CJD deaths could rise to millions. This was after the discovery that two people from the same street had died from the disease, leading to the discovery of the first microcluster. This month the latest estimate of total deaths was published, and it was all of 200. Note, however, that this is based on a mathematical model and assumptions that might or might not be justified. The fact remains that the death toll still stands at only just over 100. Oh dear, those nasty old sceptics have been proved right yet again.

Booker pries

Christopher Booker, that tireless campaigner for truth in the constant battle against the tide of bureaucracy, uniquely reports on the result of the appeal in the Metric Martyrs case (see Bananas in January and Forbidden Fruit in April). In his Sunday Telegraph article he tells us:

IN a series of outspoken interventions, astonishingly unreported by the media, a Court of Appeal judge last week called the bluff of successive governments in their efforts to foist exclusive use of the metric system on Britain by stealth.

It was "shameful" that such a massive change could have been imposed without an Act of Parliament, said Lord Justice Laws, as he heard the appeal of five small traders against convictions by magistrates in Sunderland, Cornwall and London for the crime of selling fruit, vegetables, fish and meat in pounds rather than kilograms.

"If I had had this case in a lower court," the judge said, "I would have halted it for an excessive abuse of process." It was wrong that men should be prosecuted under laws deliberately made so opaque that they would have "to bury their heads in law books" to know what the laws were.

Read on (and don’t miss the bits about fridges and the extraordinary manoeuvrings of DEFRA in trying to extricate itself from its foot and mouth debacle).

Booker was one of the co-authors of the remarkable Private Eye report on the Foot and Mouth above. He is the sort of person we need in the Upper House rather than the twerps The Leader is foisting on us.

A weakened constitution

Talking of twerps in government, the latest move in the emasculation of Parliament is to introduce ordinary office hours for MPs (but only four days a week). This is largely as a result of lobbying by the so-called Blair Babes, the female candidates who were foisted on unwilling constituencies through a PC diktat from New Labour centre. They have made little impact so far, other than fawning conformity with The Leader’s wishes, though their leading light did make the suggestion that MPs should have stress counsellors. As Harry S Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Fortunately there is still a (diminishing) rump of feisty females who make their presence felt.

Prolonging debates was one of the few weapons for oppositions (when we had them) to exercise some control on the executive. Now that the honour of representing one’s constituents has been reduced to an ordinary job (and an overpaid one at that) we are lumbered with ranks of time-servers who only too readily recognise the career risks of putting their heads over the parapet.

Number of the Year?

Our indefatigable correspondent from Puerto Rico has suggested the institution of a number of the year. Any nominations would be welcome.

Number of the Month 1.7 million

According to The Times, November 24th, Insurance firms said they will refuse to provide cover beyond the end of next year for more than 1.7 million homes unless the UK Government takes drastic action to boost the nation’s flood defences. Bob Mendelsohn, chief executive of Royal &SunAlliance, Britain’s second largest insurer, said: “It really has to do with either inability or unwillingness on the Government’s part to do something about protecting people from floods.”

In this post-scientific age of incompetence it should come as no surprise that the well-established subjects of hydraulics and hydrology seem to be largely ignored by the powers that be; as, indeed, is the statistics of extremes. This statistical theory, which was beautifully elaborated in the 1950s by the likes of the great E J Gumbel of Columbia University, provides a precise mathematical technique for determining the probability of extremes such as floods, drought or the failure of structures. Of course, determining the probability is not the same as predicting actual events, which leaves the field wide open to such as sophists as the doomsayers of global warming. Self-styled scientists, who choose to ignore such well-founded knowledge, risk falling into silly fallacies, such as the birth-month fallacy (see for example Birth daze in August). One of the simple concepts of the theory is the return period, for which a simple formula* gives you the average interval between extremes of any particular value.

A complication is the tendency of the media and bureaucracy to seize upon extremes of extremes. Thus the autumn 2000 floods in parts of Yorkshire and southeast England corresponded to more than a 200 year return period, but most of the UK was well within the more expected 50 year return period. This provides a particularly subtle form of the extreme value fallacy. These very small areas are selected after the event to establish that climate change is threatening the whole of Great Britain. It is like taking the recent case of part of an aero engine falling on one house to extrapolate to a threat of the whole island being inundated with bits of fatigued metal.

All that happened in practice was that a particular weather pattern established itself over the particular area. Take an even small area, like Lynmouth, and a shorter period, such as a fortnight in 1952, and you get much more impressive figures, as we have seen above.

If you ignore the immutable laws of hydraulics, the time will come when you pay the price. Thus, if you channel a river, you exchange a large probability of small floods for a small probability of large floods, as Americans found when they built the levees on the Mississippi. If you concrete over vast areas of land or compact the soil by bad farming practice, you remove its capability of absorbing heavy rainfall. If you build your house on a flood plain, which your ancestors have used over the centuries to provide the rich culture of the water meadows, you must expect at least to have to buy new carpets every few years. If your town chooses to ignore simple principles of civil engineering that have been known from Roman times, its citizens must expect an occasional paddle. Bad civil engineering caused flooding in Chichester, but for the media it was “a wake up call for climate change”.

Floods happen somewhere in the world several times every year. In the time of Noah they were put down to divine retribution, but this is the age of the new green religion.

*Mathematical footnote

If F(x) is the (cumulative) distribution of, say annual, flood heights, the return period for any given height, x, is:

 

 

Index

 

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